In addition to the volunteer work and community service activities defining so much of the activities of members of the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition, many core members, stewards, and other volunteers are active in the arts and literature. We can read the work of people like Pauletta Hansel, Richard Hague, Mike Henson and Sherry Cook Stanforth in their own collections, novels, and memoirs. We can also read their work and others, including Omope Carter Daboiku, Dale Marie Prenatt and Scott Goebel in the literary magazine Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel. Now in production for over 30 years, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel publishes some the finest works of Appalachian writers and artists, many of whom are from Greater Cincinnati. Urban Appalachia figures large in the literary voices found in Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel.
The Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative was founded “to support writers in our efforts to take control of our regional identity and to take action, individually and collectively, on the issues that impact our land and our people.” To this end, the journal Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel “continues its original mission to foster community and activism among and encourage publication of Appalachia’s writers. To get a better sense of what Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel is all about, check out any issue or pick up the compendium entitled Quarried: Three Decades of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel.
The works collected in Quarried are so varied and represent such a vast spectrum of voices and styles that to characterize the collection is nearly impossible. Perhaps the conversation between Gurney Norman and Lance Olsen entitled Frankenstein in Palestine, Or: Postmodernism in Appalachia provides an opening into one critical tension that threads through the works collected in the Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel collection. This debate is quite familiar to me, having been in the trenches of it during my time in literary studies, but more important, the antagonism between a drive to maintain continuity of identity, place, community, artistic value, etc. and that other voice which seeks to question and overturn everything can be found all over the pages of any issue of PMS&G. Lance Owen explains that a postmodern approach to Appalachian art and literature “aims to subvert any overarching story that helps to shape and define a given culture’s life.” Gurney Norman’s response is that “as a writer born in these mountains who writes from the premise that there is something valuable about the kind of community that has always flourished in these mountains and that this value must be argued for by the writers.” This antagonism– this push and pull– is at the heart of the writing we find in Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel.
Writers and artists young and old, rural Appalachians and urban Appalachians, the multiple identities represented by the writers collected in this journal, and the myriad ways of looking at the world evoke a distinctly postmodern set of voices. Still the anthology just as fervently reveals the intense drive for continuity and the value of traditional community. Whether intentional or not (it does not matter in the end), we can find evidence to support both Gurney and Lance’s positions throughout the works collected in any issue of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel.
This debate rages internally in “Blood of My Pen” by Aralee Strange. The poem is clearly marked by language that echoes a distant past in which the language of the Bible was on a level with the language of magic: “look yonder above the horizon/ might be clouds might be mountains/ dog snake raven enemies of the evil eye.” But all of this is enfolded into a magical realm that is distinctly the world of today. The poem begins with the spilling of ink which becomes the opening metaphor of words blossoming into something beyond the voice of the poet: “Blood of my pen the black ink at my feet/ the unwritten take root reach deep.” Such an image has as much to do with an otherworldly ideal of poetic imagination as it does with a postmodern view of poetry that renders the written word beyond the control of the author herself.
Michael Henson’s poem “Ohio River Nocturne” gives another portrait of a traditional poetic object as it drifts into a modern world of fragmentation. The poem opens with the “remorseful river” and “water that is a clear, oceanic green.” But as the speaker in the poem continues along the banks we see “plastic balls of every shape and size” and “plastic weapon toys.” The conclusion is that “it is all very sad.” It is very sad indeed. The image of the geological edge of Kentucky and Ohio comes with the age-old romance rivers have held since antiquity, and this is effaced and overrun by the throw-away contemporary world.
We can also take the example of Omope Carter Daboiku whose poetry makes language itself the object of imagination and scrutiny. Her poem, “3M: Just Posted After 50 Years” shines a light on loss and struggle, but it also snatches language from those who would profess to control language. The poem explains: “3M, oh yeah, we speak in code. That’s how we keep our spirits alive.” The “code” is the maneuver to articulate a language that does not fall into the same language that would diminish the loss of “somebody’s husband-son-brother-uncle-father.” In the end, the poem demands the inner strength that Gurney Norman champions from his position in the debate. We persevere: “Pick up your own cross and just hold on.” The poem is at once characterized by traditional themes of loss and struggle, yet it achieves much of its power from a distinctly contemporary turn toward language as a source of power.
It appears Gurney Norman and Lance Olsen are both right on the topic of tradition and the postmodern. The writers who make up the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative and everyone who makes into the pages of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel are the guardians of the Appalachian experience and Appalachian culture, but they do this by articulating the complexities and schisms that mark modern life. Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel sustains the thread of continuity of those who have flourished in Appalachia, but it does not shy away from those things that put stress on that thread.
Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel is open for submissions. Volume 23: Appalachian Edge The deadline is April 15, 2020, and the expected publication date will be October 2020. More information about the journal, including how to order copies, can be found at the website: http://www.sawconline.net/. Submission information can be found at: http://www.sawconline.net/pmsg-submission-guidelines.html.
Quarried: Three Decades of Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel. Published in Cooperation with Dos Madres Press. 2015.
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.